Review: Tom Russell -- Veteran's Day

Two CD compilations are always compelling, as they normally collapse an entire career into a basketful of tracks… not an exhaustive box set for purists, but not a “best of” with just the road-tested standards. These collections give casual fans a real chance to see how an artist rises above (or knuckles under to) passing fads and hones and develops his or her craft. For Tom Russel, this extended collection, VETERAN'S DAY: THE TOM RUSSELL ANTHOLOGY, shows how he has adorned the basic truth of his art in various ways. Russell is a storyteller, a “cowboy poet”. For those unfamiliar, cowboy poetry is an enduring artform in which the stoic American icon of masculinity is given voice through the work of writers attracted to the Western motif. In film, Clint Eastwood is a cowboy poet. In song, we have talents like Russell.

However, the market isn’t always kind to cowboy poets, so Russell infuses his consistent point-of-view into fresh musical “clothes”. Early tracks betray a 70’s era singer-songwriter sound, almost an “AM Gold” vibe. Later tracks on the first CD have the sound of a solid roots-rock road band -- think Lords of the New Church or The Del Fuegos. By the second CD, Russell’s voice takes on a deeper timbre – and a new prominence – in tracks that blur the line between classic standard-bearers of country, such as Merle Haggard, and alt.country. Russell different tones and textures all serve rather languid narrative songs. There’s not much here that’ll help you shake your ass, but if you have the patience, a number of tracks paint a narrative that will engage your imagination.